Wave Watch buoys are live! Watch the deployment video and learn how the buoys can help you stay safe on the water

Wave Watch buoy deployment 2024 - Karl and Josh work on a set-up
Wave Watch buoy with amber light lit

With light winds, sunshine and mild temperatures, deployment day was nearly perfect. On the morning of May 29th, a team loaded a National Park Service boat with buoys, anchor lines, hardware and high-visibility flags, then set out from Roy’s Point for the north end of Long Island – the entrance to Chequamegon Bay. There, they deployed the first solar-powered spotter buoy for the 2024 season, as part of the Wave Watch boater safety project. Watch the video and read on for details.


Click to read video transcript (Adobe Acrobat PDF reader required)

Long Island Wave Watch buoy with fishermen and the island in the background

The Wave Watch buoy deployed at Long Island – Jon Okerstrom photo

Long Island is one of five high-use locations where the buoys are now active. The other locations are near the mainland sea caves in Mawikwi Bay, in the channel between Little Sand Bay and Sand Island, on the north end of Devils Island near the sea caves there, south of the Tombolo on Stockton Island.

The deployment mission crew included members of the National Park Service, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Research Scientist, Dr. Josh Anderson, of the University of Wisconsin Coastal Resilience and Suitability Lab.

Anderson configured the buoys and tested the system prior to launch. He says the buoys “provide real-time information that just doesn’t exist in the Apostle Islands. We have other models, but it’s just not as valuable as real-time information.”

Jeff Rennicke holding a yellow buoy as we prepare for deployment

Jeff Rennicke helps load the boat for deployment – Jon Okerstrom photo

Also on the mission, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Executive Director Jeff Rennicke. He says, “For people to fall in love with these islands, they need to feel like they can have an adventure, but have the information they need to make good, safe decisions. And this is what the buoys will allow people to do… give them the right information, right when they need it, right where they’re going, at their fingertips.”

Anderson adds that the five locations chosen this year should provide boaters will very useful information. “We chose high-traffic, popular locations where we thought we could serve the public best,” he said. The team traveled about a hundred miles to deploy all five buoys, at specific latitude, longitude and depth. 

Sofar Ocean Spotter Buoy

The spotter buoys, built by the Sofar Ocean company, are solar-powered. Onboard sensors measure wave height and direction as well as surface water temperature. Anderson says upwelling can cause dramatic changes in water temperature, even on a hot summer day, so knowing how cold the water is does improve boater safety.

The buoys transmit the data to a satellite every 30 minutes. The data is received by Sofar Ocean. It’s relayed to the University of Wisconsin, where it is quality-checked. From there, it’s displayed on the Friends website, where you will see real-time data as well as on the WISC-Watch website, where historical data is available in addition to the real-time data.


You can access the real-time data page on this website using your desktop computer, your tablet or your phone.

To make accessing the data on your phone easier, Friends of the Apostle Islands has developed window clings and stickers containing a Wave Watch QR Code. Put the cling or sticker where ever it’s handy on your vessel. Then, simply scan the code to go directly to the page, from anywhere you can get cell phone service. To get your free Wave Watch cling, fill out the form here.

Wave Watch cling QR Code
Josh Anderson and Karl Carlson working on deploying a buoy

Josh Anderson and Karl Carlson prepare to deploy a buoy – Jeff Rennicke photo

Wave Watch buoy diagram showing weight, marker buoy with flag, intermediate red buoy and spotter buoy

The deployment process involves navigating to a specific latitude, longitude and depth and dropping overboard a series of buoys, a yellow flag, and weights in sequence. Each anchor line is configured for a specific depth, ranging between 50 and 100 feet.

New this year, each deployment includes a yellow vertical buoy and flag to increase visibility during the day. The spotter buoys also have flashing amber lights that are visible at night.

Depending on the waves, the spotter buoy could be as far as 60 feet from the flag. If you see a buoy in the water, please keep your distance so the data is not compromised.

Buoys deployed north of the Devils Island sea caves

A Wave Watch buoy deployed north of Devils Island – Jon Okerstrom photo

Dr. Chin Wu, founder of the WISC-Watch program, credits the many previous and ongoing project partners and collaborators, especially the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the National Park Service with getting the project started. We also want to thank the National Park Service for providing in-kind support for deploying the buoys this year. 

A lack of funding kept the buoys out of the water in 2023. Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has committed to funding the Wave Watch water safety program for 2024 and 2025. Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke says the hope is that the boating communities will see the benefits and support the effort long into the future. We may deploy additional buoys as funding permits.

The Wave Watch campaign is a partnership with the Water Information for a Safe Coast Watch (WISC-Watch) program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Park Service. We would also like to thank the National Park Service and our growing list of Wave Watch supporters. We trust that you will find value in this program. We appreciate your support.

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